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Will the 'Pledge to America' Produce a Single GOP Vote in November?

4 years ago
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STERLING, Va. – Politics is often a sleight-of-hand act designed to distract voters from their immediate concerns with the artful use of bright, shiny objects. These days, for example, beleaguered Democrats are trying every form of legerdemain ("Look at the crazy things my opponent has said") to divert attention from the flailing economy. But it seems baffling why congressional Republicans -- with most trends flowing in their direction -- so badly want to complicate the 2010 campaign season.
Watching 13 House Republicans all dressed for Casual Thursday unveil their "Pledge to America" in a suburban lumberyard safely just outside the Washington Beltway, I was seized by an existential "Why are we here?" moment. Newt Gingrich, to his credit, had a sense of theatrics in 1994 when he grouped 300 incumbents and challengers on the steps of the Capitol to endorse the "Contract with America." But where is the poetry in an interior setting dominated by neatly stacked sheets of wood (the lumber -- not the politicians) and the distinct whiff of sawdust?
It would be one thing if the anti-tax, anti-big-government "Pledge to America" had been rolled out as the centerpiece of GOP efforts to win back the House. But the Republicans seemed almost embarrassed to raise something as crass as politics six weeks before the midterm elections. During an impromptu press conference after the formal presentation and an anodyne John Boehner Q-and-A, I asked California Congressman Kevin McCarthy what GOP challengers in winnable districts should do with the lavishly illustrated 45-page booklet that he had just presented to the world.

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Since the parking lot of the Tart Lumber Company is not federal property, I expected (cynic that I am) a political answer from McCarthy, who orchestrated the development of the "Pledge to America." Instead, McCarthy recommended that Republican House candidates should take the booklet and -- drum roll, maestro -- "read it and understand it." Because, he explained, "This isn't about Republicans, Democrats, liberals or conservatives. This is about the American public."
If Republican candidates will not banner the Pledge on their websites, ballyhoo it in their campaign ads and recite from it during debates, then what was the point of this lumberyard logorrhea? By inviting comparisons with the "Contract with America" and then failing to match its ideological pizzazz, it is hard to see what the House Republicans have accomplished other than blurring the party's electoral message.
Even the "Contract with America" had limited vote-getting potency. Despite the way that shaky historical memory has created after-the-fact causation between the Contract and the 1994 GOP House takeover, the evidence suggests that the document was an after-thought for voters. A national poll conducted in late October found that only 29 percent of registered voters had even heard of the "Contract with America."
Nan Hayworth running strongly against incumbent John Hall in New York's suburban 19th district is the sort of free-market conservative who would have gravitated to the bold strokes of the "Contract with America." But when I asked her in a phone interview about its 2010 edition, Hayworth said with muted enthusiasm, "The Pledge fleshes out what we've been talking about. Having a specific document is convenient as a reference point. But it isn't novel in any way unlike the 1994 Contract ."
Last weekend I was in Des Moines, Iowa, looking at the tight House race between seven-term Democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell (who has not gotten more than 56 percent of the vote during this century) and conservative state senator Brad Zaun. This is an election with few ambiguities -- and it is difficult to imagine that the predictable "Pledge to America" will win over wavering independent voters concerned that the Republicans have no message.
I interviewed Zaun last Saturday in Grimes as he was holding a cookout for supporters in a (do we detect a cosmic theme here?) lumberyard. Zaun's critique of the 76-year-old Boswell (who has voted for all the major Democratic agenda items, plus casting a reluctant 2008 ballot for the bank bailout) is GOP boilerplate. "He votes 98 percent of the time with Nancy Pelosi and President Obama," Zaun said. "I don't think those votes reflect what the district wants...I'm not bad-mouthing him. I respect him. It's not personal for me. I just think he's wrong on the issues."
Running from the right in the June primary, Zaun defeated the candidate (a former Iowa State wrestling coach) whom Republican leaders believed was the most electable challenger to Boswell. Zaun, a former hardware store owner, comes from the no-compromise wing of the Republican Party. When I asked him about the tension between ideological purity and victory in November, he said, "The most important thing for me is not to win and sell my soul. I'm not going to do that."
Boswell and the Democrats are building their campaign around using Zaun's words against him in 30-second TV spots. A hard-hitting Boswell ad slams Zaun for saying that he would do "nothing" to help the biofuels industry, the source of 29,000 Iowa jobs. Another new attack ad, paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, claims that Zaun said that Iowans should show more "personal responsibility" after the devastating 2009 floods. Zaun insists that both quotes were wrenched out of context.
Like most GOP challengers, Zaun is going after the incumbent on the economy in his ads: "Leonard Boswell claims the country is on the right path. I couldn't disagree more...The Boswell-Pelosi path leads to more spending, bigger government and more debt."
But Zaun's problem is that he is badly out-gunned financially with only $100,000 in the bank (compared to Boswell's $733,000) at the end of June. The next numbers are not likely to change that storyline. As T.J. Maloney, Zaun's campaign manager, told me, "We're not going to blow the roof off fundraising in the third quarter. It's tough to raise money." The Des Moines Register added to Zaun's predicament by reporting last month that a 2001 dispute with a former girlfriend had produced a police report (but no legal action) alleging harassment.
Even though the momentum is moving in Boswell's direction, Democratic and Republican insiders agree that the battle in Iowa-3 remains a 50-50 toss-up race. As Boswell puts it, "This is about a full definition of what a swing district is." Whatever happens in this volatile race between now and Election Night, there is one certainty – the "Pledge to America" will have almost nothing to do with the outcome.

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ontap456

sounds easy enough since they put it in writing....now what or when will the Dem's, put in writing and pledge to do ? Spend more money?.....continue to force more unwanted government control and policy down our throat? Open our borders and hand out free green cards ? Continue to Refuse to listen to the american people ? Hand out more free money to the Union Pension Funds ? Let the government continue to grow in size until there's no free market and everyone is a government employee ? Get real, if the dem's put anything in writing they want to do, they would all be out of office.

September 24 2010 at 11:51 AM
Charles

All of a sudden (election time) the GOP has something to say to America, never mind that they have spent the last year sitting on this "JUST SAY NO" campaign in an effort to undermind the current administration. Never mind that they should all be held accountable for not representing us for over a year, never mind that they employed some of the most vile and underhanded political strategys, never mind they have financed support from the tea party, which is back firing. Never mind that the blatant racial overtones in the personal attacks aimed at President Obama. Why never mind all that, because at the end of the day Barrack Obama is still the President of the United States of America, and the GOP is still suffering from the effects of running a grossly negative campaign, and losing the election. I think we should ask them to pay back their salary for the past year, no action, no pay, simple.

September 24 2010 at 11:49 AM
Sam McGowan

What Republican Congressional leaders seem to have forgotten is that their ace in the hole is Barack Obama and his radical left-wing agenda. Republicans don't need to come up with some kind of gimmick. Voters in conservative districts that elected conservative/moderate Democrats in 2006 and 2008 and saw them support Obama's policies are going to send them back home and there goes Democratic control of Congress. Republicans are not going to win in the urban districts where the Democrats get their votes, but they are going to win in districts that are traditionally Republican or conservative Democratic. The Democrats lost their chance because they failed to recognize who gave them control of Congress and now they are going to lose it.

September 24 2010 at 11:47 AM
LINDA

No! This pledge is rhetorical blabber! American people are smart and know that this is just political pandering. Repubs trashed the last eight years and are responsible for the hugh deficit, concocted wars, no agenda to help the working class, never produced solutions to healthcare, failing education system, etc, etc. Now, if by chance they get back in to 'power', what a sad commentary. American peope need to give this administration a chance to correct this mess. It takes more than 18-months.

September 24 2010 at 11:46 AM
Chuck

The 'Pledge to America' is a pathetic return to the 'Contract with America' which was without a doubt the most dishonest attempt to fool Americans about the real intentions of the Republican Party. Although I am not too pleased with the Democrats, I am not so foolish to believe those who, while they were in control of the White House and both house of Congress, brought this country to the brink of a depression not seen since 1929. Only a 'dittohead' will believe the Republicans again.

September 24 2010 at 11:46 AM
teresa

THEY GOT MY VOTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

September 24 2010 at 11:45 AM
derricktvrs

If You really wanted to Help you would start telling the truth and stop lying to the people in the country about what you're going to try to do when you had eight years to do the right thing and you did not do it then so what makes you think that we want to trust you to do the right thing when all you do is lie to the people.

September 24 2010 at 11:42 AM -4
dixfiles

I promise never to watch FOX or vote Republican as long as I live. Huffington post New York times,

September 24 2010 at 11:37 AM -3
1 reply to dixfiles's comment
gilbert513@mail.com

Wow...really open minded ...I am very conservative but I agree with the Dems on some issues. Try to keep and open mind. This encourages dialogue....something we currently lack amongst our leaders.

September 24 2010 at 11:49 AM
Rock

The Republicans are doing what they have done for years. Bla, Bla, Bla and appeal to the fears of the voters, but with no concrete plans to improve our environment, job picture, or the economy. Their Contract is Baloney!! No ideas now nor in the past. We don't need any more NO's in Congress; we demand action and they only impeed it because they arem't the ruling party. We we don't need to get driven into the ditch again!!!

September 24 2010 at 11:36 AM
1 reply to Rock's comment
gilbert513@mail.com

Both parties lack solid ideas to fix anything. That's why the tea party has risen out of the ashes.....trying to take back our country from corupt politicians.

September 24 2010 at 11:51 AM
dfriberg

Here's my pledge..I will not vote for a current incumbant!!

September 24 2010 at 11:36 AM +7

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